Friday, December 02, 2005

Antiwar Sermon Brings IRS Warning


The Internal Revenue Service has warned one of Southern California's largest and most liberal churches that it is at risk of losing its tax-exempt status because of an antiwar sermon two days before the 2004 presidential election.


In his sermon, Regas, who from the pulpit opposed both the Vietnam War and 1991's Gulf War, imagined Jesus participating in a political debate with then-candidates George W. Bush and John Kerry. Regas said that "good people of profound faith" could vote for either man, and did not tell parishioners whom to support.

But he criticized the war in Iraq, saying that Jesus would have told Bush, "Mr. President, your doctrine of preemptive war is a failed doctrine. Forcibly changing the regime of an enemy that posed no imminent threat has led to disaster."

On June 9, the church received a letter from the IRS stating that "a reasonable belief exists that you may not be tax-exempt as a church…" The federal tax code prohibits tax-exempt organizations, including churches, from intervening in political campaigns and elections.

Apparently the IRS has offered the church a settlement if they will admit to "intervening in an election." All Saints has declined their offer and has hired a Washington legal firm familiar with tax-exemption issues.

A little internet research finds that All Saints Church is a social action church. The Rev. Doctor George Regas is a progressive activist, and some of his writings can be found on the Interfaith Communities United for Justice & Peace website. The sermon in question can be found here. Simply put, he puts his faith not just into words but into action--a trait that many so-called "Christians" should adopt.

Father Regas is simply doing his job, leading his congregation to a life where Christ's teachings are shown through actions and not just hollow words.

Actor Bradley Whitford of "The West Wing" is a member of All Saints Church. His statement regarding this issue was distributed via email by the ICUJP, and it gets right to the heart of the matter:


I have been a member of All Saints Church in Pasadena for over ten years.

The recent revelations of an IRS investigation into its non-profit status as the result of sermon given a week before the last presidential election by Rector Emeritus George Regas has outraged and galvanized our congregation.

The support we have received from across the spectrum of faith communities, including traditionally conservative evangelical leaders, has solidified our resolve-- the United States government has no place in our houses of worship, and the selective targeting of churches who speak out on the issues of the day sets a dangerous precedent that threatens the religious freedom of every citizen.

The sermon in question explicitly refused to endorse a particular candidate. It did, however, hold George Bush and John Kerry up to the high standard of Christian values. Both were found wanting.

Values not put into action are meaningless, no matter how lofty they are. It is the obligation of our spiritual leaders to not just articulate those values, but to make them a reality.

We live in an age where describing oneself as a "person of faith" carries with it a tremendous political advantage. But too often in the public arena, being "religious" is defined only as a search for personal salvation and a willingness to adhere to dogma.

Declaring oneself a Christian is easy. Putting Christian values to work in a dangerous and violent world is not.

Perhaps the best response to the tragedy of 9/11 was a preemptive war against a country that had nothing to do with the attacks. Tens of thousands of deaths later perhaps it is still the right decision.

But it is not Christian.

Perhaps it is good economics to give me, an actor on a television show, over a quarter of a million dollars in tax relief over the last five years as the poverty rate climbs, as we burden our children with structural budget deficits and cut services for our most vulnerable citizens.

But it is not Christian.

Perhaps the Death Penalty is an acceptable way to punish criminals.

But it is not Christian.

Jesus Christ was the Prince of Peace, not the Prince of Pre-emptive War. He was an advocate for the poor, not of supply-side economics.

And let's not forget that Jesus himself died in a bogus death-penalty rap. His was the original "bleeding heart," yet I am afraid he would be described pejoratively by many today as a "do-gooder."

President Bush proudly proclaims himself a Christian and tells us that his faith has changed his heart. Perhaps one day his faith will change his policies. Until then, I am proud to be a part of a congregation that seeks to hold all public officials to their easy, and too often empty, proclamations of faith.

Bradley Whitford
Pasadena, California

Isn't that what Christianity's really about?


At December 05, 2005 12:51 PM, Blogger Missy said...

Excellent points made by Bradley Whitford. Excellent.


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